Friday 20 September 2019

'We wait for the day someone is brave enough to tell us the full story' - Mystery death at Donegal beach

Joe Reid speaks candidly to Hubert Murphy about the death of his sister, Mary Reid, on a cold, January night and how he waits for one call...

Mary Reid's body was discovered on the Isle of Doagh on January 29, 2003.
Mary Reid's body was discovered on the Isle of Doagh on January 29, 2003.

Hubert Murphy

Last month, members of the Reid family gathered to wish their beloved sister, Mary, a very happy birthday. But there would be no cake, no cards, just a sense of longing... what if, who, what, where, when, how. Where Mary Reid is concerned, there has always been more questions than answers.

As the family sat in the Augustinian Church on Shop Street, their minds wandered at times, memories of a smiling face, of a determined young woman who would "go hungry to help a stranger" - a woman with the biggest heart in the world.

It was a cold, January evening, the 29th of the month, 2003. A local man out walking on the beach came across a body of a partially clothed woman. It was near Doagh, in Co Donegal, a lonely spot on a winter's night.

That woman was Mary Reid (49), sister of proud Donegal man but Drogheda-based Joe Reid, who runs Floorstyle on Patrick Street.

Fifteen years later and Joe is still transfixed by what happened to his sister. The authorities say it was suicide, maybe an accidental drowning as she tried to rescue her dog from a stormy sea. Joe feels something more sinister is at play.

But in the years since Mary's death, no new leads have been uncovered - even today, Joe feels it could be the likes of a Garda 'whistleblower' that might shed new light on a case, growing dimmer with the sands of time.

"I wait for the day that I get a call from someone who tells me the real story, the truth about Mary. I know she was the type of girl who'd have done exactly what her family are doing for her now, fighting for justice, justice for Mary.

"Mary was the type of woman who did nothing for herself. That's why it hurts so much. I feel I haven't achieved anything for her and that upsets me. But I won't give up, I won't give up on Mary."

The last reported sighting of Mary was in Derry city at 9.30am on that January morning in 2003. Eight hours later, her lifeless body was found on a beach in Donegal.

Mary's unlocked car was located in a car park. Her car was first noticed parked there at 12.30pm, five hours before her body was discovered a short distance away.

It was reported that her body was still warm when it was found. There was water in her lungs, but did she die there and what was the cause?

But more importantly, where was Mary for five hours between her car being spotted and her body being found?

Her bag was never recovered and the scene was not preserved. The initial feeling was this was a suicide - pure and simple?

"There exists no medical evidence, no written evidence, no verbal evidence and no visual evidence of suicide in relation to Mary' s death," Joe states, highly critical of how the gardai handled the situation from the very start.

"Mary's car had been meticulously cleaned, her bag with personal belongings was never found. The PSNI in Derry were never contacted despite Mary living and working in the city for the previous decade," Joe reveals.

Gardai re-opened their files into the case in 2005 but it proved inconclusive.

It was claimed that Mary drowned while trying to rescue her dog that had dashed into the sea. That dog was never found and no-one saw her with a dog.

Mary Reid was one of three people caught up in the 'Irish of Vincennes' case in France in August 1982. She was arrested there with two men, Stephen King and Michael Plunkett and all three had links to the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and it was alleged they were part of an Irish-Palestinian terror cell.

The incident was heralded as a great success for the French - but it was found the police had planted guns and explosives in the apartment and the three were cleared of the charges on October 5, 1983, after spending nine months in prison.

She wrote home to the family from her cell, stating the three had "nothing to hide and eventually someone is going to have to pay for the monumental mess up they've made... I am what I am and I'm happy to defend myself on that ground here. I regard France as a second home."

She took a case against the police and those that set her up. It rumbled on for years. The whole episode embarrassed the French government and a few political careers were ruined. Her case was about finding justice, not lining her pockets with compensation.

In 1991, Mary told a French court that the affair "destroyed her life" and her son who was with her in France had to be placed in a French foster home for a period before being cared for by his family back in Ireland.

Mary was editor of the Starry Plough, the IRSP newspaper, for some years and having returned to Ireland, went to study in Galway and would end up teaching English to students in Rosemount in Derry.

After her death, her French solicitor said it was a great pity that she did not see justice after a 20 year wait.

Despite the passing of time, Joe Reid, who has lived by the Boyneside for 40 years, still remains determined to find the truth.

He has files upon files, detail after detail and today would still love to see a 'Cold Case' team take on the task about finding the truth behind Mary's death.

"We are not the only family in Ireland looking for an investigation like this, but we have so many questions, so few answers.

"We look at all the factors, why the gardai presumed suicide and didn't take any forensics from the scene or why it wasn't preserved for a technical examination. There are so many things we still can't understand. What went wrong?"

Joe still goes back to Pettigo from time to time and when he meets old neighbours, their first words always ring in his mind "Joe, did they ever find out who murdered Mary?"

The gardai say there is "no recorded crime" when it comes to the death of Mary Reid and that's where it ends.

"We know there were lacerations on her face and bruises on her body and her face was pressed into the sand when she was found."

Joe feels there is too much mystery about his sister's death.

"We wait for the day a call is made from someone brave enough to pick up the phone to me and tell us the full story," he states.

There have been reports that Mary suffered from mental health problems. Joe says she was a very caring individual who believed in justice and could be driven by a desire to always help those who needed it. It was noted writer Eamon McCann writing her obituary who said she'd go hungry to feed others.

"There have been so many theories about Mary," Joe adds. Her high profile in France could have made her highly unpopular in some circles. At one stage, her keen interest in history and ancient sites even had her death associated to alleged findings in respect of the 'Holy Grail' and a link between the Knights Templar, a French chateaux and Lough Derg.

But Joe is sceptical about all that, feeling the answers lie in Ireland, rather than on foreign soil.

"Mary is never out of my mind and never will be. Each year we mark her birthday - she would have been 65 on April 25 - and her death. Mary's death hurts as much as it did 15 years ago. Hopefully, some day, someone will help ease that pain and we'll get the full story."

Drogheda Independent

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